Perhaps it is different in USA and UK, but here in Canada going to buy packaged soil mixes is rather non-transparent. I like to customize my own soil according to the plants needs. So before even considering improvements/amendments such as fertilzers etc I bought the following ingredients for my exterior container garden:
i. peat moss and later cocnut coir out (coir of curiosity and because Garden Works manager suggested it is less acidic. And therefore suitable for herbs? (low moderate price)
ii. manures -- just found out 'mushroom manure' name is very misleading -- I presumed it was not from animal husbandry industries. (moderate price)
iii. sand (cheap)
iv. humus -- that was the plan, actually 'impossible' to find pure humus for sale here -- it always is mixed with other components (unknown)
v. perlite (expensive)
vi. vermiculite (expensive)
What seems to be very difficult to find are three ingeredients that should be dirt cheap...
ix. a *small* bag of lime
I was surprised to see that most of the soil mixes, inlcuding potting and container mixes, don't even say, and if they do only in a vague way, what the ingredients are. And when they do they seldom list percentages. Garden Works in Burnaby, BC at least lists in their bulk section this important detail. For example their 'top dressing' is 50% sand and 50% composted matter, their 'garden soil' is 25% sand and 75% composted matter.
Has anyone found a website where one can find non-anecdotal reviews of packaged soils? I find it a real challenge to interpret such general instructions as 'well-drained, rich soil'. Seems to me that this should be able to be measaurable in terms of percentages of ingredients. Bags of for example 'sea soil compost' list chemicals such as nitrogen. I never see ph listed on products.
All I am looking for is the simple numbers -- the ratio of ingedients. What I expected to see is a label such as: "This product X is composed of 30% foresty by-products (wood chips), 10% 2-year composted cow manure, 30% sphagnum moss, 10% peat moss, 18% humus from location X, and 2% sand." Or whatever. Instead I get flowery language and zero hard information.
In addition gardening websites are rather vague in their prescriptive soil recommendations. It seems that the only gardening sub-culture where science is highly respected is cannabis growing. Its fans take such things very seriously, presumably because of the profit motive.
I always presumed, erroneously, that soil would be derived from nature and marketed accordingly, e.g. this soil is of PhX, aproximate chemical make-up Y, is dug out of location Z where the native growth is largely A. Perhaps it is because of problematic components but it appears that no commercial soil is actually derived from nature. It is composite of isolated ingredients. I trust fermented and composted by hundreds of years of berries, weeds and trees - and then perhaps treated to kill bugs. But is even that sensible? Maybe taking soil as it is 'warts and all' is best. I see that the blessed thistle, chickweed, dandelion etc flourish in the abandoned schoolyard nearby. So, I figure, why fight it, why not go with what grows locally and easily? And if done locally, FREE. Maybe this container gardening is also opposed to what most plants prefer -- the wilds of deep native soil. But as a compromise, is anyone gathering and selling artisinal wild soil, perhaps treated in some minimum way so all the good bugs and good bacteria is still in it? I see an cottage industry of soils marketed in the same way as terroir wines. Right now I am looking at my brown-red hands and thinking - 'what the heck is this dye, cedar by-product from the lumber industry?'
- focus: herbs
- urban (renter with only a patio and sort of lawn area to encroach upon!)
- westcoast Canada (Vancouver vicinity)
- hardiness zone 7b/81 (will move in 2 years to 6a/71)
- sun: 5-6 hours per day direct, Eastern and some southern (early afternoon) exposure
- container only for now (may join raised bed community garden later)
- beginner (with some vegetable gardening experience in 1970s)
- preference for organic
- goals: AROMATIC, medicinal, weeds, culinary
- why no food per se: as a community church charity volunteer I get all standard veggies for free, so I grow only what is impossible to get at food bank
- style: lazy, prefer weeds/invasive, why fight what works without much help?